Unusually, this post began as a comment, on the Reverend Keith Hitchman’s blog.
Keith writes — “Finally the University of Gloucestershire is to take action against student sports societies that encourage new students to take part in bizzarre and degrading initiation rituals. Or so they say. I was Chaplain to the University of Gloucestershire between the years 1999 and 2004. Every year I and other staff involved in student welfare raised this issue both at committee level and individually with the most senior figures in the university’s management structure. Every year it was agreed that the University should do something to stop it. Yet, it continued unchecked.”
I have much sympathy – but also some sympathy for the students, and a weird sense of revulsion, horror and amusement about the whole Family Night thing. Above all, I was in my fifteen or so years around the place pretty well positioned to see what was going on, and I sure as anything feel the University of Gloucestershire’s staff were not to blame. Here is my reply, as Keith might think it unsuitable for his blog, though I did post it there and he has published it!
If you have no idea what this is about watch this short BBC news item first –
CJ wrote in response to Keith
“Banal, stupid, macho, but adolescent not really satanic Keith? I think the closest we got to that was the Crowleyian rites practiced by one family in 1988, by some of the Rosehill bunch, and that was mainly the Wizard of the East Wing just enjoying himself to shock the Christian Union. If I had not been locked in the room with him after the door handle broke off, with the CU gathered outside trying to cast out the demons, while he waved a ceremonial scimitar and went on about the pentagram being broken, with me trapped and feeling mighty queasy on Polish vodka — well I might have been more alarmed. Ah, such happy days and not so long ago! 🙂
Really though the University WAS serious about suppressing family nights – it was the Student Union who were not initially, and unsurprisingly given the close relationship between the SU and the superb sports teams. I don’t recall any people dressed as Nazis and being whipped – well I do, but that was recreational and limited to the Gay Wizard’s nights in again, nothing to do with Family nights. ( I say Gay Wizard to distinguish this gentleman from myself, Hugh, Kurt or any of the other practicing occultists on the fringes of the Christian Union in ’87 to ’90.)
I think Janet was pretty apoplectic about the whole Family Night scene, and Bill and Ted certainly regarded it as a bogus adventure, if they may have turned a blind eye to a lot of traditions. In ’88 I spread the word I had dosed my freshers on LSD, Mescaline and snakebite & black and planned to lock them in the morgue overnight as an initiation – clearly I did no such thing – they actually came back to my room and drank coffee and avoided the intimidation that was part and parcel of the Family Night tradition. My attempt to shock the Family heads worked – they were genuinely horrified, and I believe reported me to Student Services, who fortunately were less credulous and just laughed sensing one of my endless wind ups.
However I honestly think to blame the UofG administration for the antics of the students is utterly unfair, indeed unjust – endless paperwork was circulated to try and stamp it out, and families were banned from SU publications, SU bars, indeed I think it was an expulsion (from the SU) offense. And the university was even more draconian, especially after an appearance in The Sunday Sport (circa 91/92) and the American hazing cases that resulted in major lawsuits. (I’m resisting making jokes about paddling Freshers and l’vice Anglais here… the Wizard’s antics are enough to reference in a man of the cloth’s blog.)
Well, I could go on for a long time about this tradition, once certainly well loved by many, though something I stood opposed to. Most male families indulged in pretty silly behaviour, but no one died, or not often, and a lot of people seemed to enjoy it. I was however turned against it from my experience in 1987, when a group of us at Rosehill declared ourselves Bastards as we would have no fathers, and refused to sign up for the Families. As I had never drunk alcohol in my life to do so would have been suicide, but on family night the families invaded, and I ended up swinging wildly in a truly disturbing and violent fight as they smashed their way in to the Common Room – and the floor was slick with blood by the end of the melee, where a handful of us held off the families.
It was not a fun fight – is there such a thing? – I genuinely feared for my life, and intended to sell it dearly – and some of the people I put down rather hard in my terror (and my weapon was improvised, furniture, unlike some we faced) turned out to include SU types. I think the whole fight lasted the length of Zepellin’s Immigrant Song, and there must be a lot of people whose bodies still bear scars from that night – the police arrived as ambulances were involved. The uni came down hard – and once again, the students continued – off campus.
I recall my mother asking me how my week at uni had gone, and I replied “It’s ok mum, a bit like the Somme on a quiet day, only more hand to hand.” Luckily she never asked what I meant.
With nearly two decades gone, hell more than two decades,and Paul and Mary turning in to CGCHE, then UofG, sure Family Night is a vile, bacchanalian tradition of wild excess, intimidation and senseless drunkenness – but it takes place mainly off campus.So what can the university actually do? If a member of Trinity (“now-with-less-Holy”) was to commit an offence in the car park opposite, would it be the churches business? I know not, but these are not easy questions…
Oh well, happy days.
I hope this will amuse a few people, and I suspect alumni of the institution in question will laugh and understand! However I will reiterate – Family Night is not in my opinion the responsibility of UGSU, the University of Gloucestershire, or anyone but the students who choose to participate – and with the university many times larger now, I’m guessing 90% of University of Gloucestershire students first knowledge of the family night antics were when they saw the reporting in the papers. I thought it rather tame and a storm in a tea cup – but if you read this blog post you will see why! I would certainly have absolute confidence in sending my son or daughter to this fine institution, which after all produced me and Beast Rabban – which is pretty good surely? 🙂